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Should we be cynical about ‘happiness’?

  • Date:

    27 November 2015

Should we be cynical about ‘happiness’?

Chris Sutcliffe of TheMediaBriefing takes a critical look at whether happiness as a measure of consumer magazine success stands up to scrutiny.

First things first: For all that consumer magazine publishers bet upon it, ‘happiness’ is a woolly term. Depending on context and situation, it can variously mean either ‘satisfaction’, ‘receptivity’, ‘audience loyalty’ and any number of terms, and ultimately it may be a catch-all term for each.

So it’s difficult to hear claims made about the importance of audience happiness to a publishers’ bottom line, since it’s at best a proxy metric for many different things.

And yet many consumer publishers appear to be doubling down on providing services aimed specifically at increasing audience happiness, which benefit them back in turn. As Immediate Media’s director of enterprise, CRM and subscriptions Jess Burney recently told an audience at Monetising Media 2015:

Chris Sutcliffe

“We found that 25 per cent of people will give us their data anyway because we have that engagement with them. The deeper the engagement with individual consumers, the more data they’re willing to share with us.”

She ascribed that engagement to having provided a good value exchange to their consumers – effectively making them happy enough to respond in kind to Immediate Media’s requests.

And research into that phenomenon by Magnetic found that consumer magazines were particularly well-placed to take advantage of consumers’ happiness and wellbeing, in that it made them more receptive to ads.

Reliance on happiness

According to the most recent NRS Padd statistics, 73 per cent of UK adults (37.9million people) say they regularly consume magazine content, and the vast majority (62 per cent of all UK adults) do so in print format. However, for the most part, the circulations of print magazines in the UK continues to decrease, and the last few days have seen two of the more storied men’s lifestyle magazines ‘suspend publication’ as a result.

So it’s especially important that audiences are receptive to the advertisements in print and deliver good return on investment (ROI) for advertisers.

So how can publishers ensure that happiness/receptivity? According to Sue Elms, Head of Global Brand Management, Millward Brown, it’s all down to that old publishing standard of creating relevant content:

“They can focus on engaging targeting. AdReaction Video found that consumers are most receptive to video ads targeted based on their interests (41% receptive) or preferred brands (40% receptive) and least receptive to ads based on their web browsing history (25% receptive). Sensitive application of targeting is likely to work best for both advertisers and publishers.”

And that’s supported by the research from Magnetic, which found that of customers who have purchased a lifestyle magazine – and have therefore self-selected – fully half said that the ads were relevant to them. More than that, 60 per cent said they actively seek out the advertisements in magazines.

Engagement on digital

Notably, those figures were lower when the magazine content was digital rather than print, suggesting that – for once – the arguments about print having inherent value as a medium for communicating a message has some basis. It’s also possible to draw a connection between the fact that 60 per cent of consumers actively seek out print ads, effectively making them a key part of the magazine’s content, and the fact that PwC and Ovum believe print will be the format of choice for magazine buyers for a long time to come.

So while it’s cynical and easy (and probably right) to dismiss ‘happiness’ as a relevant metric for publishers on its own, it makes sense as a proxy measurement for receptivity. It may just be a surrogate measurement – and one that relies upon audiences accurately self-reporting a subjective emotion – but it’s one that places the needs of the consumer above all else.

And at a time when PwC are predicting that the global consumer magazine market will return to a (minimal) level of growth over the next few years, it makes sense that the consumer publishers who double down on making audience happiness – and therefore their engagement with the ads – a priority will be the ones who benefit most from that return to growth.

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